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scholastic paradigm general

1277 – scholastic paradigm emerges. This is before Descartes, it is often thought that it was Descartes that ignited the paradigm.
- New vision of the natural world
- Modern version of the mind-body problem
- Essence of mind is thought
- Essence of matter is extension


what did the scholastic paradigm lead to an abandonment of

o Participatory metaphysics
o Knowledge via illumination – seen in D’s placement of mathematics as a benchmark
♣ Recollection for Plato
o Realist stance towards universals
o Causal powers
♣ Objects have powers, rather than laws of nature that govern the world. Causal powers are eroded
o Final and formal causation i.e. Aristotelian ideas of causation
♣ Descartes collapses Aristotle’s ideas. Only leaves efficient causation
o Absolute ontological difference between God and creatures
o Analogical link between God and creatures
o Nihil in intellectu quod non prius in sensu
♣ Nothing is in understand which was not previously in sense
♣ Aristotelian tag, empirical emphasis – surprising


descartes education

- Taught by Jesuits - 1606/7-1614/5: Jesuit College of La Flèche
- Training in Latin and Greek grammar, classical poets, and Cicero; three years of philosophy (Aristotelian syllabus: logic, morals, metaphysics, physics)
- Is not satisfied by his education
o ‘I found myself beset by so many doubts and errors that I came to think I had gained nothing from my attempts to become educated but increasing recognition of my ignorance’ (Discourse on Method, VI.4)
o By no means widely read and generally suspicious of learning unless something tangible could be extracted


three dreams

- 10–11 November 1619, while stationed in Neuberg, Descartes shut himself in a room with an oven to escape the cold
- Believes a divine spirit revealed to him a new philosophy
- Emerges with the outlines of analytical geometry and the idea of applying mathematical method to philosophy
- Mathematics = benchmark of knowledge (like Plato)
- The World (1629-1633): forthright commitment to mechanical philosophy
- Discourse on the Method (1637)
- Appendix: Principles of Geometry (1638)


what can I know with certainty

o Knowledge without help from others
o Egocentric perspective
o E.g. dreams. Such a private concept at dreaming may not be in accordance with general understanding of reality
♣ Descartes dreams about mathematical idea that is real both in his dream and reality. It is a priori


what is knowledge

o What counts as knowledge? For D, whatever is incorrigible, self-evident
o Demotes knowledge of natural world. He is more suspicious of this due to his three waves of doubt. He is more certain of geometry and arithmetic


where does knowledge come from

o For D, the mind
o Triggers exploration into what the mind could be
o What is the connection between a priori and a posteriori knowledge


meditations hinterlands

- Interior, meditative monologue combining philosophy and doxology with striking confidence. Hinterlands:

o Augustine, Confessions

o Anselm, Proslogion

o Bonaventure, Journey of the Mind to God
- Meditations are internal monologues
o Most subversive work in the form of internal meditations = ironic


meditations addressal to and what they address

- Addressed to the Dean and Doctors of the Sacred Faculty of Theology of Paris in 1641 hoping to persuade them that he had arguments for God’s existence
- Meditations address:
o nature of matter (that its essence is
o activity of God in creating and conserving
the world
o nature of mind (i.e. an unextended,
thinking substance)
o mind–body union and interaction
o ontology of sensory qualities


Descartes attack on high scholastic axiom

- Key Aristotelian and High-Scholastic axiom: nihil in intellectu quod non prius in sensu (‘nothing in the understanding that was not previously in the senses’)

- Descartes attacks this ostensibly empiricist position with respect to:
o Mind: that which affirms, denies, doubts, understands could have little to do with senses

o God: an infinite being that sustains everything in existence from one moment to the next, could not have come to us through the senses

o Matter: extended substance in motion has little to do with senses

o Limitless and perfect being: could not possibly come to us through sense- experience


Rational Scepticism or rational intuition?

- Faith seeking understanding?
- Scientia may need to be dismantled and rebuilt, but the mind’s power to intuit basic truths and logical connections (‘cognitio’) is what makes such an exercise possible in the first place
- Descartes implicitly committed from the outset that the source of this reliable cognitive power is the divine creator, the source of all truth
- Is he a sceptic or does he think that there is an inner power of intuition?
- Idea of destruction = important amongst French philosophers e.g. Foucault
- For D, it is the mind and our cognitive powers that dismantle


Theistic Presuppositions?

- Notice the reflex in the First Meditation when the sceptical experiment goes as far as questioning God:
o ‘Je supposerai donc qu'il y a, non point un vrai Dieu, qui est la souveraine source de vérité, mais un certain mauvais genie … qui a employé toute son industrie à me tromper’
o ‘I will suppose that not God, who is supreme source of all truth, but rather some malicious demon … is bent on deceiving me’
- In an interview with the young Dutchman Frans Burman in 1648, Descartes remarks that ‘a reliable mind was God’s gift to me’


degrees of reality - relate to third meditation

- Notion of ‘degrees of reality’ strange to modern mind but a standard element in high-scholastic metaphysics
- Substance = that which can exist independently
- Accident = property of a substance (the way a substance is)
- Mode = particular determination of an accident (the specific way an accident is)
- E.g. ‘the blue chair’ – substance (chair) plus accident (colour) plus mode (blue)
- Degrees: Substance > Accident > Mode


objections to argument for god as highest degree of reality

1. Descartes is claiming that we have a very powerful – clear and distinct – idea of God, and not some hazy notion of something indefinitely great. But this requirement conflicts with Descartes’ own claim that as finite minds, we cannot form a clear idea of God’s infinity
2. Argument relies on the notion of ‘degrees of reality’, and the claim that a cause must have more reality than its effect. This stance is no longer credible: indeed we owe its rejection to Descartes’ development of the mechanical view of nature
1. D himself shifts from Aristotelianism to mechanistic view of world
3. Why suppose that every idea must have a cause? Since it is not an analytic truth it is logically possible that some ideas have no causes. If the idea of God has no cause, Descartes’ argument collapses.


ontological argument in fifth meditation

- ‘I have become accustomed to distinguishing existence from essence’ – e.g. I know what the essence of a triangle is, but I do not know whether any triangles exist
- But God is a special case: ‘it is obvious to anyone who pays close attention that existence can no more be separated from God's essence than its having three angles equal to two right angles can be separated from the essence of a triangle’
- Why can't existence be separated from God's essence?
- Because ‘I am not free to think of God without existence, that is, a supremely perfect being without a supreme perfection’
- Therefore, God exists


analysis of ontological argument

1. I find a clear and distinct idea in me of a supremely perfect being, a being whose essence includes all the perfections
2. Necessary existence is a perfection
3. So a supremely perfect being necessarily exists
- ‘My understanding that it belongs to [God’s] nature that he always exists is no less clear and distinct than is the case when I prove of any shape or number that some property belongs to its nature’
- Is Descartes’ ontological argument an argument? On some occasions he suggests that it is not a formal argument at all, but rather a self-evident axiom grasped intuitively by a mind free of philosophical prejudice


objections to ontological argument

- Distinction between ‘essence’ (quid est) and ‘existence’ (an est)
- Existence is contained in the “true and immutable essence, nature, or form” of a supremely perfect being, just as it follows from the essence of a triangle that its angles equal two right angles
- What is the ontological status of Cartesian essences? Was Descartes committed to a species of Platonic realism? Abstract, logical entities outside the mind and beyond the physical world? (Anthony Kenny)? Are Cartesian essences in God? (Tad Schmaltz)? Or are essences to be ideas in human minds (Daniel Nolan)?
- Aquinas had rejected the claim that God's existence is self-evident to the degree Descartes seems to suggest. He argued that what is self-evident cannot be denied without contradiction, but God's existence can be denied (the proverbial fool says in his heart ‘There is no God’)


different interpretations

- ‘Insincerity School’: Descartes primarily a physicist who saw theology and metaphysics as barriers to progress and triumph of ‘reason’
o Meditations either a smokescreen or skilfully duplicitous way of destroying scholasticism from within

- ‘Sincerity School’: Descartes a defender of religion against rise of Renaissance scepticism urging renewal of contemplative life of philosophical reflection

o Meditations should be taken at face-value



- Was Descartes a Cartesian?
¥ Impact of D should be separated from the impact he wanted to have
- Meditation; illumination; finitude; participation in God vs. nothingness; resistance to extreme dualism;
- Laws of nature replace causal powers
- Mechanistic causation replaces formal and final causation
- Confidence in a mathesis universalis – no sharp division between practical and theoretical knowledge
- Aim of his thinking is not contemplation but action and production, turning the world to human use
- Human beings become masters and possessors of nature
- If Descartes is a liminal figure, then from this point onwards we will have crossed the threshold …